Gillian Beer – Darwin and Alice in Wonderland.


Gillian Beer with both warmth and humour  launched into quotes from ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’ and and continued to open up ‘new approaches to Darwin’s thinking and to its effects on the culture of his contemporaries’ both in her talk and in the third edition of her book ‘Darwin’s Plots’.

Lewis Carroll his pen name (Charles Dodgson in real life) was looking for rules and then flouting them and  ‘toying with multiple systems’ apparently.  She talked about so many things through the world created for Alice, by Charles Dodgson.    She stated ‘Alice books highlighted so many possibilities when revolution was in the air’. Many clever devices emerged,  the transformation of the caterpillar and the implied transformation of Alice from child to young lady to woman.

‘Where is the human in the natural order?’ she asks, ‘in Alice books animals can talk’.  Her title of her talk ‘Animal, vegetable and mineral’.was because of  stress in the mid-19th century as Darwin’s theories of evolution were being constantly revised.

The Alice books, Dr. Beer reminds us, end in chaos. I personally was less familiar with ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’ and  the Queen disappearing in the soup, the leg of lamb having a voice which she suggests indicates the author’s concern for animal welfare.

The question and answer session was as intriguing as the talk. References to Dodgson’s lack of religious context in Alice led to further interesting facts from Gillian. Apparently  the original flower in the garden was to have been a passion flower but wasDSCF9825 changed to a lily to avoid religious connotations. But, as one  questioner pointed out ‘The Hunting of the Snark’ had a religious bias.

We learned too that Dodgson had several sisters, one of whom, Henrietta, lived in Brighton. He also enjoyed many summer holidays in Eastbourne.

Now to read Gillian’s book and to re- read ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ with greater understanding and enthusiasm..

Post Script

As  I found a seat in the front row it suddenly occurred to me that this was the 14th May and would have been my late mother’s birthday. So thank you Brighton Festival and Gillian Beer.


Just for good measure throwing in the reconstruction of extracts from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ a film my mother and I made with our marionettes a year or two before she died.

As I finish this somewhat jumbly post (sorry about that) Suddenly remembered France in the early 50’s my mother, myself and sister had our car stopped for no reason at all by the gendarmes, heavily armed of course. We had forgotten to carry our car hire papers.  We were more or less held hostage as my father was sent to our friends apartment to get them. What did my mother do? Sat us down, by this time in twilight and started to read yes her favourite story  ‘Alice in Wonderland’.



Do check out the BRIGHTON Festival there are plenty of events to enjoy!

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This entry was posted in Ann's memoir, Brighton - out and about, Cheer yourself up, Cheer yourself up on a dull day, Finding my feet in Brighton, Flowers/Garden/Allotment, Retiring to Brighton - ups and downs and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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